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“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Thoreau, from Walden
Henry David Thoreau was one of America’s most original thinkers. He developed his own way of looking at the world; he was unconventional and uncompromising. Thoreau often made people uncomfortable because his words forced them to confront themselves. He made people think. He still does. The questions Thoreau asked – how a person can live with his conscience, with other people, with his government, and with nature – connect him to all people worldwide who have ever wondered who they are and where they fit in: timeless issues of identity and integrity so important to our students.
This workshop, which will take place during the weeks of July 14-19 or July 21-26, 2019, offers an opportunity to study Thoreau in his own hometown of Concord, Massachusetts: he was born here on July 12, 1817. Our NEH Summer Scholars will focus on how Thoreau’s ideas were shaped by his experiences, observations, reflections, and discoveries in this New England community. We will visit the places where Thoreau’s experiences took place, examine his writing process, and explore the deliberate choices he made to live ethically and responsibly as part of both human society and the natural environment. We believe that our investigation of and immersion in the historic landscapes of Thoreau’s Concord can bring an understanding of the man – his life and literature – that can only happen by being in those actual places. Would you like to join us?
In this workshop, all Concord will become our classroom. Thoreau connected to his hometown in three major ways, and those ways represent the three major themes that will wind throughout the workshop: connecting to the physical landscape, the social community, and the symbolic place. The landscapes of Thoreau’s world encompass the natural sites that served him as both laboratory and sanctuary, the locations where he encountered folks whose lives would provide him with examples of both dignity and desperation, and the civic and commercial institutions that figured so prominently and provocatively in his essays. A grounding in the places he knew will afford you a chance to discover for yourself and your students a more approachable, accessible Thoreau.
Read through the descriptions of sites, faculty, readings and especially the detailed workshop schedule with its day-by-day description of where we will be, who will be guiding us, and what we will explore through our lectures, discussions, visits to landmarks, activities, and readings. Will this help you in your teaching and have an impact on your students and colleagues? If the week sounds exciting, and you are intellectually adventurous, curious by nature, a lover of the outdoors, and someone who revels in the idea of a “community of scholars” exploring ideas and places together – whether on trails or in conversations – this could be ideal for you.
While most people automatically associate Thoreau with high school English classes, and we expect this to be a draw for American Literature teachers, the workshop will offer rich educational experiences and resources for secondary social studies and science teachers, library/media specialists, elementary teachers, and curriculum coordinators interested in helping their students to become better observers – of nature, society, and self – and better writers. Thoreau was the ultimate interdisciplinary observer, as he so often wrote of the many ways in which he could do his “surveying.” We will not only follow the paths of his ideas, literally and figuratively; we will follow his methods. We will incorporate subject areas from mathematics to geography to poetry to biology fieldwork to textual analysis to a focus on social justice as we examine issues of personal, civic and environmental responsibility. Those from all grade levels are encouraged to apply. You will become excellent resources for one another in this collaborative investigation of the way Thoreau lived, the landscapes he lived in, and the legacy he left to us.